A discussion of my works and an interview with me leads off a new Chinese/English book on US arts trends. The volume, by professor and designer Ming Chen, is titled “Arts Trends USA: An Anthology of EPerformance.” My work is in a chapter called “Applications of New Technology in the Arts,” and consists of an introduction by Chen, photos of many works (Interactive Robotic Painting Machine, Head Swap, Computers Watching Movies, and Flexible Pixels inside and on the back cover), and a Chinese translation of an interview I did with Fer Ares of Roboteknia magazine in Mexico. The book is available from Amazon.cn.
Demetricator Discussed in Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked
Continuing with some catch-up, I’ve been meaning to mention that Facebook Demetricator gets a prominent mention along with quotes of mine and screenshots of the work in Adam Alter’s recent book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. In this New York Times Bestseller, Alter discusses Demetricator as a subtle tool which “dulls the feedback cues that make Facebook addictive.” You can hear Alter talk about Demetricator in this podcast from the University of Pennsylvania, or read about it in reviews of the book at Psychology Today or The Globe and Mail. You can grab a copy at Amazon.
My Interactive Robotic Painting Machine is discussed in a new book by artist and professor Fabio Oliveira Nunes, titled “MENTIRA DE ARTISTA: arte (e tecnologia) que nos engana para repensarmos o mundo.” Roughly translated as “ARTISTS LIE: art (and technology) that deceives us to rethink the world,” the book “…addresses a universe of contemporary works of art that pass for what they are not. Here, artists resort to forms that attempt to mislead the real nature of their propositions by inserting them as part of a context: they can make use of personas (assuming an alternative existence), create fictitious institutions (such as companies), generate ambiguous situations, or embark on other practices that, as a rule, happen outside of the habitual environments of the arts.”
I’m very happy to be a part of this book, and also glad to share that it is available for free online (in addition to print). Fabio Oliveira Nunes is a professor at the Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho, UNESP, in Brazil.
My work Go Rando will be part of the Athens Digital Arts Festival in Greece. Under the theme #PostFuture, “ADAF 2017 aims to explore the future of digital culture, merging the digital and physical boundaries and discovering the effects of this futuristic lifestyle in the different aspects of everyday life.” Having been in the festival twice in previous years (with ScareMail and the premiere of You like my like of your like of my status), I’m happy to once again be a part of this event. The festival runs from the 18-21 of May.
Push messages, status and news updates, social bots and hate comments – smartphones and screens are permanently blinking and flashing. Public spaces have always been permeated by announcements, warnings and spectacles. Today, we are experiencing an increase in input pressure – after all, every one of us is a recipient, producer and sender, all rolled into one. Public opinion is characterised by constant information and disinformation. The result: differences between public and private spaces disappear, positions that were thought to be secure vanish, and populists find their way into government.
The Festival runs from 26-30 of April.
Next week I’ll be giving a couple talks in New York. The first will be at the International Workshop on Obfuscation at New York University. Led by Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum, the workshop “convenes researchers, scientists, developers, and artists to discuss a broad range of technical, theoretical, and policy approaches to obfuscation, from tools that anonymize users’ social media data to new methods for writing code itself.” The title of my talk is “Go Rando First and Ask Questions Later: Resisting Emotional Surveillance with Noisy Feelings.” I’ll be speaking about Go Rando as an example method for obfuscating personal identity, both in an outward sense (e.g. within big data) and an inward one (e.g. how the project encourages reconsideration of one’s one reactions on a case-by-case basis). I’ll also talk a bit about my works Facebook Demetricator and ScareMail within this same context, as well as the role of obfuscatory artworks in the public perception of governmental and corporate surveillance.
The second, with my co-author Nicole Brown, will be at Theorizing the Web 2017 in Queens. Here’s the abstract:
The (In)visibility of Black Death: Questioning the Image on Social Media Feeds
From its earliest days, Facebook’s News Feed has included images uploaded by users. But the site’s early status interface began with a text-based prompt: “[Username] is…”. Though Facebook still supports textual content and users still post text-based messages, the feed is now dominated by the image. One significant visual subject of this domination has been violence against black bodies. Within the contexts of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 24-hour news cycle, social media platforms—and the increasing number of images they display—make visible how national bloodlust and anti-blackness converge to create and feed a compulsive desire to consume images of black death. But what else do these displays of anti-black violence reveal? Are emotional traumas created by repeated exposure to images that reconstruct and display black experiences with violence? We argue that this exposure distorts how one’s blackness constructs perceptions of who is human and who is not human. We also consider the role of the News Feed algorithm in this context, where being seen and metrically responded to can lead to increased visibility (and thus, power), while overexposure to the same material can eventually lead to a perceptual invisibility and trauma. Critical net art practices that treat software systems as recomposable material can help us examine these issues. Specifically we consider how images make black death both visible and invisible through the use of the artwork Textbook. Textbook is a browser extension that removes images from Facebook, allowing users to test for themselves how images affect their experience and read of the site. Such a mechanism can enable resistance against the forced consumption of images of black death without erasing the subjects and actions they portray from critical inquiry. Given how the relationships between image, metrics, and algorithms have led to a torrent of dehumanizing and socially damaging visual material on the News Feed, it is time to more critically interrogate the role of the image on social media feeds.
… Grosser assembled a supercut of touch-based interactions from the popular TV series House of Cards, unsurprisingly with no voices heard and various evolving strategies to render the content. It is a difficult rendering of intimacy, as the screen is always oriented to the protagonists’ faces, but the expressions and gestures viewed become suddenly both empathic and iconic.
Here’s a selection of recent press about Go Rando:
- The Washington Post: How to hide your true feelings from Facebook
- The Atlantic: The Facebook Algorithm is Watching You: Here’s One Way to Confuse It
- CBC Radio [Canada]: Haha, Wow, Grrr… Go rando with Facebook reactions
- We Make Money Not Art: Obfuscate Your Feelings on Facebook and Defeat Its Algorithms in the Process
- Creative Applications Network: Go Rando – a big FU to Facebook sentiment analysis
- Creators (VICE): Confuse Facebook’s Algorithms with the ‘Go Rando’ Web Extension
- Wired [Italy]: L’estensione per browser che nasconde le tue emozioni da Facebook
- The 21st Show [radio]: Facebook, Privacy & Big Data – Why It Matters
- The Next Web: This extension randomizes your reactions to hide your true emotions from Facebook
- Art F City: Friday Links
- Fox News: What Trump Should Say On Tuesday
- Suddeutsche Zeitung [Germany]: Bei Facebook zählen Herzen jetzt mehr als Likes
- Die Tageszeitung [Germany]: Niemand weiß, was ich mag
- Archimag [France]: Go Rando : une extension pour tromper Facebook sur vos émotions
- Graphisme & Interactivité [France]: Tromper Facebook avec des émotions aléatoires
- We Are Social Media: Go Rando and Hide Your True Emotions From Facebook
- Lenta.ru [Russia]: Найден способ скрыть свои эмоции от Facebook
- The Objective [Spain]: Cómo Facebook está construyendo un perfil sobre ti con tus reacciones
I have a commentary in the latest issue of the journal Big Data & Society. The text, titled “Tracing You: How transparent surveillance reveals a desire for visibility,” examines feedback to my computational surveillance work Tracing You. I argue that reactions to the work—in particular those who are angry Tracing You isn’t more accurate than it is—reveal how we’ve become conditioned to expect surveillance. Why?:
One answer lies in “Web 2.0’s” (O’Reilly, 2005) insistence on radical transparency. Social media in particular has conditioned many to not only accept high visibility, but to desire it (Bucher, 2012: 1175). This is because being as visible as possible on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the key that permits entry into and full participation within those site’s systems of interaction and connection. Users can lurk or hide if they choose, but doing so severely limits user experience. When this desire for visibility intersects with ubiquitous transparent veillance, it contributes not only to an acceptance of being seen, but also helps to produce the negative emotions expressed by users less visible to surveillance systems. Being less visible within social networks means having less power; one’s power (to influence opinion, to increase friend networks, etc.) is dependent on one’s visibility.
As a result, many visitors to Tracing You have already been conditioned by social networks to equate visibility with power. Thus, by mirroring the veillant structures of sites like Facebook, Tracing You also produces—at least for some of its visitors—a similar desire for visibility. This happens despite the overt potentially negative surveillance implications proposed by Tracing You’s ability to reveal one’s physical location.
You can read the full text here. The piece is part of a special issue titled “Veillance and Transparency: A Critical Examination of Mutual Watching in the Post-Snowden, Big Data Era,” edited by Vian Bakir, Martina Feilzer and Andrew McStay.
I had a great time talking with Nora Young of CBC Radio about Go Rando and the effects of emotional surveillance on Facebook. The show it’s part of, called Spark “…explores how technology, innovation and design affects our lives.”
My work Facebook Demetricator was discussed in the February 2017 issue of Wired Magazine. The article it’s a part of is titled “The Social Medium is the Message,” by Clive Thompson. In the wake of the US presidential election, Thompson writes about the cultural implications of social networks in the ways that they produce filter bubbles, enable fake news, and consolidate information access. When talking about tweaks that could be made to systems like Facebook, Thompson writes:
Let your imagination go wild and you can concoct even more aggressive, more ambitious reforms. Imagine if you got rid of all the markers of virality: no counts of likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, or upvotes on Reddit! Artist Ben Grosser created a playful browser plug-in called the Facebook Demetricator that does precisely this. It’s fascinating to try: Suddenly social media stops being a popularity contest. You start assessing posts based on what they say instead of because they racked up 23,000 reposts.
I recommend the full article! You can read the online version here.
On the occasion of the Blinding Pleasures exhibition in London, I did an interview with Régine Debatty of We Make Money Not Art. We talked about Go Rando, how the Facebook News Feed shows you the world it thinks you want, resisting emotional surveillance, and more. It was really a pleasure to chat with her.
Next week I will launch a new work, titled Go Rando, as part of the exhibition Blinding Pleasures at Arebyte Gallery in London, UK. Curated by Filippo Lorenzin, Blinding Pleasures “… will study the dangers and potentials of a conscious use of the mechanisms behind the False Consensus effect and its marketing-driven son, the so-called “Filter Bubble”. … [Further, the exhibition] reflects on how people can critically take control over their inner psychological biases, disrupting the attempts of being misled by those who detain power on the platforms they use.” I’m pleased to be a part of this show with artists Angela Washko and Man Bartlett. Stay tuned for more about the new work!
I’m happy to share that I have a chapter in the recently released 3D Additivist Cookbook. Edited by Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke and published by the Institute for Network Cultures, the cookbook “is a free compendium of imaginative, provocative works from over 100 world-leading artists, activists and theorists. The 3D Additivist Cookbook contains .obj and .stl files for the 3D printer, as well as critical and fictional texts, templates, recipes, (im)practical designs and methodologies for living in this most contradictory of times.” My piece is titled “Adding to Subtract: 3D Printer Recipes to Disrupt Our Desire for More,” and can be found on pp. 256-9 of the free open-access PDF. The whole thing is a large 460MB download—if you’d prefer, you can grab my text here (along w/ the cover page, contents, and editor introduction).
I was very happy to be interviewed about ScareMail for a recently released online documentary film called “I SPY With My 5 Eyes,” about the impacts of global surveillance. Written and directed by Justin Pemberton, the film focuses on “the Five Eyes Alliance, a secretive, global intelligence arrangement between the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States. The alliance represents the largest surveillance program in human history.” The clip above has myself talking about ScareMail along with NSA whistleblower William Binney talking about the absurdity of NSA keyword searches. I highly recommend you watch the whole film, which is presented online in a novel interactive format.